Richard Milhous Nixon:
Tricky Dick, Christmas Bombings,
Dwight David Eisenhower:
War hero, Grandfather, Golfer, Caretaker, kept us out of
These are the images, memories, and myths held by many
Americans of these two presidents of the
While there are always elements of truth in images,
memories, and myths, there are many other things left out. For Nixon, we should also acknowledge his
But these dualities and paradoxes do not really get at the heart of these men, nor the history within which both acted. Focusing on each as president also skews the richness of what each brought to American history. In many ways, focusing on the two as president and vice president from 1953-1961, which Herb Brown does in his play, You’re My Boy reveals more nuance and substance that might help us understand both men’s legacies.
The purpose of this introduction is to explain this web site and place Herb Brown’s play within the dramatic tradition. Later in the web site there is a section that outlines the historical themes of the period (Historical Overview of the Postwar U.S.).
The Structure of the Web Site
The Play section includes a brief Synopsis of the production, Herb Brown’s Playwright’s Notes (in which he suggests what his goals were in writing the play), and the Director’s Approach, which suggests how Geoffrey Nelson envisioned taking Herb Brown’s words into the multi-dimensional sphere of the stage.
The Historical Context section includes Historical Overview of the Postwar U.S., which presents the myths and the realities of the era of consensus and anxiety and a list of specific historical events and concepts mentioned in the play. The Historical Chronology, 1944-1961 presents some of the particulars of the postwar era. Within the chronology are facts about technological innovation (nuclear power development, electronics, exploration of earth and space), social transformations (consumerism, civil rights, the sexual revolution), the shifting political party alignments, and the interaction between domestic politics and international events (Red Scare/McCarthy era and the Cold War/independence movements). Not all of these themes or particulars are directly referenced in the play, but together they present the time period within which Eisenhower and Nixon led the Republican administrations. The section Herblock Cartoons presents one of Herb Brown’s favorite political cartoonists (taken from the Library of Congress web site) and his biting satire on issues addressed in the play. The next link, Plays and Films on Nixon and Eisenhower includes a long list of plays and films artists have created, mostly on Richard Nixon. Together, these links in the section on Historical Context present you with a variety of perspectives on the era and should aid you in coming to grips with the themes Herb Brown contextualizes in his play.
The section, The Characters, includes lots of information on the key characters—Richard M. Nixon, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the Other Characters (Thomas E. Dewey, Sherman Adams, Murray Chotiner, and Pat Nixon). The next link, Other Historical Personalities, includes material on individuals referenced in the play. The actors, especially, but the other artists as well, employed these sources and others to shape their interpretations.
Production Elements is a section intended to help the theatre patron understand how the other artists work with the director to bring the playwright’s words to the stage. Thus, there is a link on Stage Design, Costumes, and Technical (Lighting, Projection, and Sound).
Actor’s Biographies includes information on the actors and their previous work.
You’re My Boy and the Dramatic Tradition
You’re My Boy is a
play about the relationship of two men whose actions not only shaped much of
The play focuses on the psychology and politics that shaped their relationship. It reveals the tensions between the two and why those tensions emerged. The play exposes Eisenhower as more of a politician than most understood at the time. It shows how other historical actors shaped the relationship between the president and vice president (indeed, how many “boys” are there in this play?!). Brown’s play also, perhaps, suggests some of the historical background and motivations behind Nixon’s disgraceful actions during the Watergate scandal.
Herb Brown’s play holds similarities to contemporary productions, including Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal in Oliver Stone’s 1995 film, Nixon, but it focuses on an earlier time. And it holds a similarity to the recently released, The Aviator (2004) , a film biography of Howard Hughes. Given the extraordinary accuracy of the facts in the play, there is a sense of “realism” that mirrors some documentary productions.
While clearly contemporary in its accuracy and its relating history to the present times, there are also ties to a longer theatrical tradition. It reflects some of the themes of Greek dramas and Shakespeare: duty to oneself and to one’s country underlay the tensions in the play. Deception and misdirection and manipulation permeate the relationships. There is a manipulator (Dewey) who does not hold the office but holds the power to choose those who will lead. There is the wartime hero (Eisenhower) and the good soldier (three of them, actually—Nixon, Adams, Chotiner), but one (Nixon) who wants to eventually replace the hero. Two of the good soldiers are tossed aside when political realities intervene.
In the final analysis, however, You’re My Boy is a contemporary play that suggests, like the 1950s production of The Crucible, how the past mirrors the present.